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Re: [Fsuk-manchester] Freedomware distro

From: John Rooke
Subject: Re: [Fsuk-manchester] Freedomware distro
Date: Fri, 18 Aug 2017 08:19:10 +0100

On Wed, 2017-08-16 at 21:00 +0100, Michael Dorrington wrote:
I've been asked why they are non-free.  It's because they are licensed
under the GNU Free Documentation License (licence) with Invariant
Sections.  For more information see:



I have some important reservations about the freedomdefined project, not least in that they make no serious attempt to explore the concept of freedom.  Freedom is an attribute of human beings, not of artefacts.  Nor is it a matter of being able to do just what you like with an artefact, without respecting the rights of others.  Freedomdefined are no doubt doing a useful job of bringing together the full range of free licenses, but when they venture into controversy, they move on to shaky, not to say dangerous, ground.

Their basic assumption, contained in the name of the organisation, is that freedom can be defined.  I would argue that the concept of freedom cannot be defined, as it is for every individual to ascertain for themselves what freedom is.  To impose your own definition of freedom upon another, is not to liberate them, but to enslave them.  (Indeed, I might fairly ask who are the 'we' in the freedomdefined article and what do they think gives them the right to define freedom for others?)

Regarding their specific claims as to the nature of freedom, I would argue that they are ahistorical and technocentric, in that they assume that the four freedoms are themselves definitional of freedom.  I strongly disagree.  As I understand it, the four freedoms derive from the doctrine of freedom of speech, as embodied in the First Amendment to the US Constitution.  This classic statement of (one aspect of) freedom, itself owes its existence to generations of thought and struggle, dating back at least to Milton https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Areopagitica

Now, freedomdefined is attempting to backport ideas from the free software movement into a tradition that has its own well established values.  There is nothing wrong with this in principle, if it is properly done, but it is dangerous and must be done with care.  Do you have any idea what you might break?  Freedom of speech does not, for instance, include the freedom to impersonate others (as Debian clearly recognised in its dispute with Mozilla).  It does not include the right to distort the words of others, to abuse, slander or misrepresent them.  Conventions exist to guard against these eventualities and the authors of the GNU-FDL have attempted to take account of these nuances.  It is insufficient to simply dismiss their attempts, by measuring them against a definition that was developed specifically for software.


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